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President Donald Trump has invited his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to visit the US, in a move that drew startled laughter from US intelligence chief Dan Coats.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said when he was told about the invitation during a live interview: “That’s gonna be special!”

President Trump’s presidency has been clouded by allegations that Russian hackers meddled in the 2016 US presidential election in his favor. However, the Kremlin denies the allegations.

At the Helsinki summit, President Putin offered access to 12 Russians indicted in absentia by the US authorities over the alleged interference, on condition the Russian authorities could question 12 Americans over a different case. President Trump first praised the suggestion as “incredible” but later rejected it.

Since his return from Finland, President Trump or the White House have had to correct or clarify other comments regarding Russia, creating confusion and prompting the Democrats to demand details of his private talks with President Putin.

Vladimir Putin, in power in Russia since 2000, last visited the US in 2015, when he met President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York to discuss the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.

Image NBC News

President Trump Criticized after Summit with Vladimir Putin

Maria Butina: Russian Charged with Spying in US

Trump-Putin Summit: Donald Trump Defends Russia over Claims of Election Interference

On July 19, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted that discussions about a visit by Vladimir Putin to Washington DC this autumn were already under way.

Russian ambassador to Washington Anatoly Antonov said Russia had always been open to the idea of a visit but it was “up to the Kremlin to decide how many summits are needed, and when”.

The announcement appeared to come as a surprise to US intelligence chief Dan Coats, who was told about it during a live interview at the Aspen Security Forum in the state of Colorado.

Dan Coats added that he did not yet know what President Trump and President Putin had discussed during their meeting, at which only the pair and their interpreters were present.

At the post-summit news conference in Helsinki, President Putin was asked whether he would extradite 12 Russian intelligence agents indicted in the US for hacking Democratic Party computers.

No extradition treaty exists between the US and Russia, but Vladimir Putin said he would meet the US government “halfway”.

President Putin said that US investigators could question the 12 suspects inside Russia if, in turn, Russian investigators were allowed to question US citizens with regard to a case against financier Bill Browder.

Bill Browder was instrumental in the US imposing sanctions in 2012 on top Russian officials accused of corruption in the Magnitsky affair.

One of the Americans on Russia’s list is a former US ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul.

The idea of allowing Russia to quiz US citizens sparked outrage and the Senate voted 98-0 against it. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it was “not going to happen”.

Michael McFaul tweeted his gratitude to the Senate: “98-0. Bipartisanship is not dead yet in the US Senate. Thank you all for your support.”

At the news conference in Helsinki, President Trump said: “He [Vladimir Putin] offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigations with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer.”

Now, however, President Trump says he “disagrees” with President Putin’s proposal.

He has also clarified remarks at the news conference in which he said he saw no reason for Russia to have meddled in the 2016 US election – despite US intelligence concluding just that.

Speaking to CBS News on July 18, President Trump said he held Vladimir Putin personally responsible for interfering in the election, and that he was “very strong on the fact that we can’t have meddling”.

Vladimir Putin has also described the summit as “successful” but warned “there are forces in the United States that are prepared to casually sacrifice Russian-US relations”.

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A 29-year-old Russian woman has been charged in the US with conspiracy to act as a Russian government agent while infiltrating political groups.

According to media reports, Maria Butina had developed close ties with the GOP and had become an advocate for gun rights.

The charges are not related to Robert Mueller investigation that is examining alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Maria Butina allegedly worked at the direction of a high-level Kremlin official.

Her attorney, Robert Driscoll said in a statement released on July 16 that his client was “not an agent” and instead just an international relations student “who is seeking to use her degree to pursue a career in business”.

Robert Driscoll added the charges were “overblown” and there was “no indication of Maria Butina seeking to influence or undermine any specific policy or law or the United States”.

He said his client had “been co-operating with various government entities for months” over the allegations.

Maria Butina, who lives in Washington, was arrested on July 15 and was held in jail pending a hearing set for July 18, the DOJ said in a statement.

The announcement of Maria Butina’s arrest came hours after President Donald Trump met Russian President Vladimir Putin, and defended the Kremlin against claims of interference in the 2016 presidential election.

President Trump said there had been no reason for Russia to meddle in the vote.

Maria Butina’s arrest also came days after the justice department charged 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking Democratic officials in the 2016 US elections.

In a sworn statement unsealed on July 16, FBI Special Agent Kevin Helson said Maria Butina’s assignment was to “exploit personal connections with US persons having influence in American politics in an effort to advance the interests of the Russian Federation”.

Maria Butina did so without registering her activities with the US government, as required under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, prosecutors say.

She sought to foster ties with an “organization promoting gun rights”, the DOJ said, without naming any group or politicians.

According to an affidavit, Maria Butina was trying to “establish a <<back channel>> communication for representatives of the Government of Russia”.

The criminal complaint states that Maria Butina focused on developing personal connections with influential US politicians to “advance the interest” of Russia.

Image source VK Page

Trump-Putin Summit: Donald Trump Defends Russia over Claims of Election Interference

As a part of that alleged mission, the complaint says she was organizing an event to further influence “the views of US officials as those views relate to the Russian Federation”.

According to the complaint, Maria Butina reported back to an official in the Russian government about her progress using Twitter direct messages among other means.

In one message, the Russian official told her: “Your political star has risen in the sky. Now it is important to rise to the zenith and not burn out (fall) prematurely.”

The affidavit also states that the unnamed official was sanctioned by the US Treasury.

Maria Butina, originally from Siberia, came to the US on a student visa to study at American University. The complaint alleges that she was in fact secretly working for the Russian government.

The woman founded a group called the Right to Bear Arms before she arrived in America, and US media have previously reported her ties to the National Rifle Association (NRA), the most powerful gun lobby in the US.

Maria Butina has previously denied having worked for the Russian government.

The Washington Post reported that she became an assistant to Russian banker and former senator Alexander Torshin. He was sanctioned by the US Treasury in April.

Alexander Torshin, who is a lifetime member of the NRA, and Maria Butina attended NRA events in the US beginning in 2014.

Maria Butina also attended a Trump campaign event and reportedly asked Donald Trump about his views on foreign relations with Russia.

According to the Washington Post, Donald Trump had answered: “We get along with Putin.”

President Donald Trump, who is attending the G7 summit in Canada, says Russia should be part of the group.

Russia was expelled in 2014 following its annexation of Crimea, but President Trump said he wanted the country readmitted.

Fellow members of what was then the G8 suspended Russia after it took control of Crimea, saying it would remain until Russia “changes course”.

The build-up to the meeting has seen major disagreements between President Trump and other nations over his imposition of trade tariffs.

There are also likely to be disagreements with the US president over Iran and climate change.

The G7 summit, which groups the US, the UK, Canada, France, Italy, Japan and Germany, is being held in the town of La Malbaie in Quebec.

Image NBC News

G7: Russia faces further economic sanctions over Ukraine crisis

The leaders of the nations, which represent more than 60% of global net worth, meet annually. Economics tops the agenda, although the meetings now always branch off to cover major global issues.

President Trump said he regretted the meeting had shrunk in size, putting him at odds with most other G7 members on yet another issue.

He said: “You know, whether you like it or – and it may not be politically correct – but we have a world to run and in the G7, which used to be the G8, they threw Russia out. They should let Russia come back in.”

President Trump found support in the shape of the newly installed Italian PM Giuseppe Conte, who tweeted that it was “in the interests of everyone” for Russia to be readmitted.

Canada, France and the UK though immediately signaled they remain opposed to Russian re-entry. A Kremlin spokesperson said they were interested in “other formats”, apart from the G7.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is currently in Beijing, where he was presented with a friendship medal by Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has inaugurated a highly controversial bridge between the mainland Russia and annexed Crimea.
The $3.7 billion bridge has been a flagship political project for Russia as it seeks to cement its hold on to the territory it annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
The Kerch Strait bridge was opened in a typically hands-on fashion by the Russian leader. By driving a truck.

Image source kremlin.ru

Vladimir Putin admits Crimea annexation plot before referendum

The 12 mile (19km)-bridge, now the longest in Europe, is the only direct road link with Russia. It links Russia’s Krasnodar region with Crimean peninsula. Its opening marks the physical “reunification” of Crimea with Russia mainland.
Once fully completed, the road and rail link will be able to handle 40,000 cars a day and to move 14 million passengers and 13 million tons of cargo per year, according to RIA Novosti.
Russian special forces seized Crimea in a lightning operation in February 2014. The West responded with crippling economic sanctions.

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US President Donald Trump vowed on Sunday to “move forward in working constructively with Russia”, including mentions of forming a cybersecurity unit staffed by the two countries. This statement follows Russian President Vladimir Putin denying any kind of interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election.

With US President Donald Trump.

Source: Kremlin Official Website

Trump’s commitment to partner with Putin on cybersecurity has drawn stern criticism from officials of both the main parties, some of whom have described the president as dangerously naïve for trusting his Russian counterpart in this way. Trump tweeted that he “strongly pressed” Putin twice about Russia meddling in the election during their meeting in Germany on Friday, and that Putin “vehemently denied it”.

American intelligence agencies have concluded definitively that there were attempts by Russian authorities to influence the election in Mr Trump’s favor, through illegal hacking, propaganda, and other insidious activities. However, Trump’s public statements on the issue haven’t been defensive in the least, and have varied from vague complacency to outright doubt over Russia’s role in the election.

Following the meeting at the G20 Summit earlier this month, Trump didn’t say whether he believed Putin’s denial or not, only stating “I’ve already given my opinion” at the end of his tweet. Both Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have claimed that Trump believed Putin’s assurances that Russia hadn’t meddled in the election.

However, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus disputed Putin and Lavrov’s version of events. Though Priebus wasn’t present at the meeting between the two world leaders, he said “It’s not true” on Fox News Sunday and that Trump “absolutely did not believe the denial of President Putin”.

However, the Chief of Staff later showed varying certainty over the issue, saying that president Trump “believes that Russia probably committed all of these acts that we’ve been told of. But he also believes that other countries also participated in this activity.”

Trump’s statements have all come in the form of tweets, following his three-day visit to Hamburg, where he met Putin and other world leaders. In these tweets, Trump repeated his accusation that Obama and did “nothing” after learning about Russia’s involvement in hacking Democrat email servers to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.

As more and more of the election hacking scandal has come to light, there’s been increasing talk about what can be done to protect future elections. One arm of this is new biometric technology, from companies such as Smartmatic. If integrated, this extra layer will ensure that the person voting really is who they say they are.

While there’s no evidence as of yet that ballot counting or voting was affected directly in last year’s election, many American officials are concerned that Russian saboteurs may have gained some knowledge that could help them influence elections in the future, including the 2018 mid-terms.

Both Democrat and Republican secretaries of state, who are responsible for conducting elections in many American states, have complained about a lack of information from federal intelligence officials regarding Russian interference in the last presidential election.

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is holding talks in Russia with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, as the US urges Moscow to stop supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Rex Tillerson’s visit comes amid tensions over last week’s suspected chemical attack in Syria and American strikes on a Syrian base.

Russia has condemned the US strikes and stands by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, its long-time ally.

President Donald Trump has said the US has no further plans there and is “not going into” that country’s civil war.

On April 11, President Trump’s defense secretary made clear the priority remained the defeat of ISIS.

Jim Matiss said: “Our military policy in Syria has not changed.”

Iamge source Times of India

Last week’s air strike has led to confusion over US policy in Syria, with some officials suggesting a more aggressive stance against President Bashar al-Assad.

As they were preparing to meet today, Sergei Lavrov told Rex Tillerson that Russia had “a lot of questions regarding very ambiguous and contradictory ideas (…) coming from Washington”.

Rex Tillerson said he looked forward to a “candid” exchange so that the two countries could better define and narrow their differences.

He has warned that Russia risks becoming irrelevant in the Middle East because of its support for Bashar al-Assad.

The White House also says Russia has been trying to deflect blame for the chemical attack that killed 89 people.

US intelligence reports say the Syrian government used chemical weapons during air strikes on the rebel-held Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun that left 89 people dead.

On April 11, the Turkish health ministry confirmed that the nerve agent Sarin had been used.

Syria denies this and Russia has instead blamed rebel forces, which it says were storing chemical weapons which were hit in the raids.

On April 12, the UN Security Council is to vote on a draft resolution by the US, UK and France requiring the Syrian government to co-operate with an investigation into the chemical attack.

President Vladimir Putin has also called for an independent UN investigation.

Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, has resigned over his contacts with Russia, the White House has announced.

He is alleged to have discussed US sanctions with the Russian ambassador before Donald Trump took office.

Michael Flynn is said to have misled officials about the conversation.

Earlier, media reported that the DoJ had warned the White House about the contacts late last month.

They said that Michael Flynn might be vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

Image source Wikimedia

It is illegal for private citizens to conduct US diplomacy, and the calls happened late last year before Michael Flynn was appointed to the administration.

A number of senior Democrats had called for Michael Flynn to be fired.

The national security adviser is appointed by the president to serve as his or her chief adviser on international affairs and defense.

In his resignation letter, Michael Flynn said he had “inadvertently briefed the vice-president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador”.

A White House statement said Lt. Gen. Joseph Keith Kellogg had been appointed as interim replacement for the post.

Michael Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, initially denied having discussed sanctions with Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, and VP Mike Pence publicly denied the allegations on his behalf.

However, he came under further pressure on February 13 when details of his phone call emerged in US media, as well as reports the justice department had warned the White House about him misleading senior officials and being vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

According to the Washington Post, the message was delivered by then-acting attorney general Sally Yates, who was subsequently dismissed by President Trump for opposing his controversial travel ban.

Michael Flynn, who was previously fired by Barack Obama as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was an ardent supporter of Donald Trump during the campaign.

He became a close ally of both the president and his chief strategist, Steve Bannon.

Michael Flynn encouraged tougher policies on Iran and a softer policy on Russia, but questions were raised about his perceived closeness to Moscow.

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President Donald Trump held a series of phone calls with world leaders, including one with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

According to the Kremlin, both sides had agreed to make fighting “international terrorism” – including ISIS and “other terrorist groups” in Syria – a top priority.

And the White House said the call was a “significant start” to improving a relationship “in need of repair”.

President Trump also spoke with leaders from Japan, Germany, France and Australia.

In a statement in English, the Kremlin provided more details of the first official call between the two leaders since Donald Trump took office.

The Kremlin said it was a “positive and constructive” conversation, during which they discussed the fight against terrorism, the Middle East and the Arab-Israeli conflict, strategic stability, non-proliferation and Iran’s nuclear program, North and South Korea, the situation in Ukraine.

The Russian account of the call was also notable for its lack of any mention of economic sanctions against Russia by the US, which have been the subject of much speculation in recent days.

However, the statement did say both parties “stressed the importance of rebuilding mutually beneficial trade”, which, the Kremlin said, could aid the development of relations in other areas.

Russia considers all anti-Assad rebels in Syria as terrorist fighters, though the previous US administration has supported some moderate rebel groups opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.

The White House did not offer additional clarity on the items discussed, but rather issued a short statement saying: “Both President Trump and President Putin are hopeful that after today’s call the two sides can move quickly to tackle terrorism and other important issues of mutual concern.”

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin also agreed to arrange a face-to-face meeting for a later date – and stay in “regular personal contact”.

In his other phone calls on January 28, President Trump invited Japanese PM Shinzo Abe to the White House in a meeting scheduled for February 10, press secretary Sean Spicer said.

Rex Tillerson has been narrowly approved as secretary of state, despite concerns about his business ties to Russia.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee split along party lines, with all 11 Republicans voting in favor and all 10 Democrats against. A full vote will now be held in the Republican-run Senate.

The move capped a busy day for Donald Trump’s administration.

Most notable was the US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), fulfilling a campaign pledge.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order to pull out from the 12-nation trade deal that had been a linchpin of former President Barack Obama’s Asia policy.

He said: “Great thing for the American worker what we just did.”

Also on January 23, the Senate confirmed Mike Pompeo as Donald Trump’s CIA director.

Mike Pompeo’s immediate task, correspondents say, will be to establish an effective relationship between the spy agency and Donald Trump.

Image source Flickr

Donald Trump has been critical of the CIA for concluding that Russia had been actively working to influence the US presidential election in his favor.

In another development, new US Defense Secretary James Mattis said Washington had an “unshakeable commitment” to NATO, despite Donald Trump’s earlier description of the military alliance as “obsolete”.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved Rex Tillerson after leading Republican Senator Marco Rubio dropped his opposition.

Marco Rubio sparred with Rex Tillerson during confirmation hearings earlier this month, accusing him of being soft on Russia.

The 64-year-old former head of Exxon Mobil knows Russian President Vladimir Putin through his business dealings.

However, Rex Tillerson has criticized Moscow for its annexation of Ukraine’s southern Crimea peninsula in 2014.

Marco Rubio said that although he had doubts over the choice, he believed a new president was entitled to deference in assembling his cabinet.

“Despite my reservations, I will support Mr. Tillerson’s nomination in committee and in the full Senate,” said Marco Rubio.

He had challenged Rex Tillerson over his refusal to call President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” over Russia’s air strikes in Syria and his failure to condemn strongly enough human rights violations in Saudi Arabia and the Philippines.

Marco Rubio was among the candidates who fought Donald Trump in the battle for the Republican presidential ticket.

The partisan split in the voting is unusual. Traditionally, nominees for secretary of state have been approved by overwhelming votes from both parties.

Senator Ben Cardin, the committee’s top Democrat, had said he would not vote for Rex Tillerson, also over his position on Russia as well as other issues.

He also suggested that Rex Tillerson’s “business orientation” could “compromise his ability as secretary of state to forcefully promote the values and ideals that have defined” America.

While critics raise concern about Rex Tillerson’s ability to trade in his corporate interest for a national one, some supporters suggest the former CEO’s background as a global dealmaker may bring fresh perspective to the nation’s top diplomatic post.

At a closed doors meeting on January 23, Donald Trump told congressional leaders he would have won the popular vote in the election if millions of undocumented immigrants had not voted illegally. He gave no evidence for the claim.

Hillary Clinton won nearly three million votes more than Donald Trump, who got more support in key swing states and won the Electoral College.

However, any notion of widespread voter fraud was widely rejected as untrue when Donald Trump made the same claim in November.

Donald Trump’s transition team has released a letter that they say was sent to him by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The president-elect said about the note, which is dated December 14, 2016: “A very nice letter from Vladimir Putin; his thoughts are so correct.”

On December 22, the two leaders called for their respective nations to boost their nuclear arsenals.

Earlier, Donald Trump seemed to welcome the notion of a nuclear arms race tweeting that the US “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability”, only after hours after President Vladimir Putin had called for his own military to “strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces”.

Image NBC News

In the letter released by the Trump transition team, Vladimir Putin says he hopes that “we will be able – by acting in a constructive and pragmatic manner – to take real steps to restore the framework of bilateral cooperation in different areas as well as bring our level of collaboration to the international scene to a qualitatively new level”.

Experts believe that Vladimir Putin hopes that the next US president will remove economic sanctions by the US Department of Treasury which have been placed on Russian officials following the invasion and annexation of Crimea.

At an annual media briefing on December 23 in Moscow, Vladimir Putin said he saw nothing remarkable in Donald Trump’s tweet, making it clear that he does not view the US as a potential aggressor.

Donald Trump has been seen as close to Vladimir Putin and the Russian government, and drew condemnation from both Republicans and Democrats when he announced his selection of Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state.

Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil, has worked closely with Russian state oil company Rosneft, spoken out against international sanctions imposed on Moscow, and in 2013 was awarded an Order of Friendship by the Kremlin.

In response to Vladimir Putin’s letter, Donald Trump praised the Russian president’s words, calling them “so correct”.

President-elect Donald Trump said the US must “greatly strengthen and expand” its nuclear capabilities “until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes”.

His spokesman later said that the presidentelect was referring to the need to prevent nuclear proliferation.

Donald Trump spoke hours after President Vladimir Putin said Russia needs to bolster its military nuclear potential.

According to Arms Control Association, the US has 7,100 nuclear weapons and Russia has 7,300.

Donald Trump’s comments came in the form of a tweet, giving no other details.

Hours later, Jason Miller, the communications manager for the Trump transition team, explained the president-elect “was referring to the threat of nuclear proliferation and the critical need to prevent it – particularly to and among terrorist organizations and unstable and rogue regimes”.

Jason Miller also added that Donald Trump “emphasized the need to improve and modernize our deterrent capability as a vital way to pursue peace through strength”.

Image source Flickr

Donald Trump’s tweet came after Vladimir Putin met with his military advisers to review Russian military activities in 2016.

The Russian president said: “We need to strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces, especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defense systems.”

During Donald Trump’s campaign he referred to nuclear proliferation as the “single biggest problem” facing the world, but also said he could not rule out using nuclear weapons against Europe.

Donald Trump’s defeated Democratic rival Hillary Clinton repeatedly cast her opponent during the campaign as too erratic and lacking in the diplomatic skills required to avoid a nuclear war.

Hillary Clinton mocked Donald Trump by saying: “A man who can be provoked by a tweet should not have his fingers anywhere near the nuclear codes.”

In interviews before his surprise victory Donald Trump said that other countries should spend more on their own defense budgets, and forgo US protection, because “we can’t afford to do it anymore”.

He has said he is in favor of countries such as Japan and South Korea developing nuclear weapons “because it’s going to happen anyway”.

Donald Trump is spending the festive season at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where he has been meeting with campaign advisers.

Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, has died after a Turkish police officer shot him in an apparent protest at Russia’s involvement in Aleppo.

Several other people were reportedly also injured in the gun attack in Ankara, a day after protests in Turkey over Russian support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The gunman, who was in civilian clothes, opened fire at point blank range as Andrei Karlov made a speech.

He is said to have died in a shootout with police soon afterwards.

According to local reports, Andrei Karlov was rushed to hospital, but his death was later confirmed by the Russian foreign ministry.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone about the attack, the Turkish president’s office said.

Speaking outside the hospital where Andrei Karlov was taken, Ankara Mayor Melih Gokcek said the killing was intended to ruin Turkey’s relations with Russia.

The attack was swiftly condemned by other countries.

US state department spokesman John Kirby: “We condemn this act of violence, whatever its source. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.”

Image source AP

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson: “Shocked to hear of despicable murder of Russia’s Ambassador to Turkey. My thoughts are with his family. I condemn this cowardly attack.”

German Interior minister Thomas de Maiziere said his country stood with Turkey in a common fight against terrorism.

France’s President Francois Hollande “strongly” condemned the killing.

Before the attack happened, a meeting of the Russian, Turkish and Iranian foreign ministers had been planned in Moscow for December 20.

According to Russian TV, Ambassador Andrei Karlov had been attending a photo exhibition called “Russia as seen by Turks”.

Video of the event shows him making a speech when gunshots ring out. Eight bullets are said to have been fired.

The camera pulls back to show a smartly dressed gunman, wearing a suit and tie, waving a pistol and shouting in Arabic and Turkish.

The gunman can be heard yelling “Don’t forget about Aleppo, don’t forget about Syria” and uses the Arabic phrase “Allahu Akbar” (God is great).

Turkish officials later identified him as a member of the Ankara riot police, aged 22.

Andrei Karlov, 62, was a veteran diplomat who had served as Soviet ambassador to North Korea for much of the 1980s.

After the fall of the USSR in 1991, Andrei Karlov had a posting as Russian ambassador to South Korea before returning to North Korea for five years in 2001.

Taking up the Ankara posting in July 2013, Andrei Karlov had to grapple with a major diplomatic crisis last year when a Turkish plane shot down a Russian jet close to the Syrian border.

Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov has been shot and seriously wounded while visiting a photo gallery in Ankara.

Several other people were reportedly also injured in the attack, a day after protests in Turkey over Russia’s military intervention in Syria.

Andrei Karlov was taken to hospital to be treated for his injuries.

Image source Getty Images

Image source Getty Images

According to Russian TV, Ambassador Andrei Karlov had been attending an exhibition called “Russia as seen by Turks”.

According to Turkish media, Andrei Karlov was making a speech when he was shot in the back by a gunman.

A video from the event shows the ambassador speaking when gunshots ring out.

The camera pulls back to show a smartly dressed gunman, wearing a suit and tie, waving a pistol and shouting.

The gunman repeats the Islamic phrase “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) and also shouts “Don’t forget about Aleppo”.

It is too early to know the motives of the attacker, who has not yet been named.

Some reports say the gunman entered the art gallery using a police ID card.

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Moscow’s NKVD restaurant drew social media protests and the letters on the big sign with its name outside have been removed.

The name of the restaurant is a chilling echo of the Stalin-era communist terror. The NKVD was the forerunner of the Soviet KGB secret police. In the 1930s and 1940s the NKVD arrested millions of people and many were executed.

The restaurant also sports a big portrait of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

Stalin’s image also featured on the restaurant’s menus.

Image source Twitter

Image source Twitter

NKVD restaurant is not far from the Kremlin and the old secret police headquarters, on Ostozhenka Street.

The controversy over the “NKVD” name featured in Russian Vesti TV news – one of the main broadcasts on the state-controlled Rossiya 24 channel.

However, some Russians voiced alarm at what appeared to be more whitewashing of history and an insult to Stalin’s many victims.

Public displays of Stalin portraits were taboo in the last decades of the Soviet Union – but they have reappeared during President Vladimir Putin era.

Vladimir Putin has emphasized the sacrifices made by the USSR in World War Two. But he has also acknowledged that Joseph Stalin’s security apparatus committed terrible crimes.

Leonid Gozman, of the Russian civil society organization, Perspektiva Foundation, said “it’s a rehabilitation of our country’s most tragic episodes.

“I can’t imagine a <<Gestapo>> restaurant in Munich or Berlin… A lot of our people consider the NKVD to have been a criminal organization. Many people’s relatives suffered or died [in that period].”

Pro-Moscow candidate Igor Dodon has won the second round of Moldova’s presidential election.

With almost all the ballots counted, Igor Dodon, who wants to restore close ties with Russia, had 52.37% of the vote, while pro-European candidate Maia Sandu, polled 47.63%.

The national vote marks the first direct presidential election in Moldova since 1996.

Since 1996, Moldova’s president has been chosen by parliament.

Image source Publika.md

Image source Publika.md

The election was seen as a battle between those supporting closer ties with Russia and those wanting integration with the EU.

Speaking shortly after the closure of polling stations on November 13, Igor Dodon called on Maia Sandu to preserve public order and abstain from protests.

Igor Dodon, 41, was a deputy prime minister in the Party of Communists government before 2009. He blames widespread corruption in Moldova on the pro-EU parties that have ruled the country since then.

Both candidates criticized the vote as badly organized, highlighting the shortage of ballot papers for overseas voters.

The final voter turnout was 53.3%.

Moldova, a former Soviet republic with has close historical ties with Moscow, declared independence after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The country also has a breakaway region supported by Russia, Trans-Dniester.

Moldova has moved to forge closer ties with the EU in recent years, a course championed by Maia Sandu.

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Vladimir Putin has decided to cancel a planned visit to France amid a row over Syria.

The Russian president had been due to meet his French counterpart Francois Hollande and open a new Orthodox church on October 19.

However, after the French government said talks would be confined to Syria the visit was halted, presidential sources said.

On October 10, Francois Hollande suggested Russia could face war crimes charges over its bombardment of Syria’s city of Aleppo.

The French presidency had told the Russians President Hollande would attend only one event with Vladimir Putin during the visit planned for October 19 – a working meeting on Syria, according to the sources.

But after this Russia “let it be known that it wanted to postpone the visit”, they added.Vladimir Putin Panama Papers

A spokesman for Vladimir Putin confirmed the trip had been canceled, adding that the visit would take place when it becomes “comfortable for President Hollande”.

Despite this Francois Hollande has said he will meet Vladimir Putin at “any time” if it would “further peace”.

The development comes a day after President Hollande told French TV that prosecutions over Syria could take place in the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“These are people who today are the victims of war crimes. Those that commit these acts will have to face up to their responsibility, including in the ICC,” the French president said.

Neither Russia nor Syria is a member of the ICC.

Moscow has repeatedly denied attacking civilians, and says it targets terrorist groups in Syria.

The besieged east of Aleppo has come under intense aerial bombardment since a cessation of hostilities brokered by the US and Moscow collapsed last month.

The area was hit again on October 11 in some of the heaviest air strikes in days, a monitoring group and activists said.

According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 8 civilians were killed in strikes on the Bustan al-Qasr and Fardos districts.

Diplomatic efforts to revive the ceasefire have so far come to nothing.

The UN has warned that eastern Aleppo, where an estimated 275,000 people still live, could face “total destruction” in two months.

Last week Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution drafted by France calling for an end to the bombing in Aleppo.

The US-led coalition has admitted its airstrikes in eastern Syria killed at least 62 Syrian troops fighting ISIS.

Russia and Syria said the strikes prove the United States and its allies are sympathetic to ISIS.

According to the Russian military, 62 Syrian soldiers were killed near Deir Ezzor Airport. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at 83 and said at least 120 soldiers were wounded.

The strike occurred September 17 in an eastern part of Syria that is not a part of a delicate and nearly week-old ceasefire. The US military said it was targeting ISIS militants and if it hit Syrian troops, it was an accident.

Hours after US-led coalition airstrikes, the US and Russian ambassadors to the United Nations chastised each other outside an emergency Security Council meeting.

The US said its planes had halted the attack in Deir al-Zour when informed of the Syrian presence.

Bashar al-Assad has raised the possibility of Germany acting as a mediator to try to end Syria's 30-month-long civil war

A spokesman for the US administration expressed “regret” for the “unintentional loss of life”.

The attack caused a bitter row between the US and Russia at the United Nations Security Council.

US envoy Samantha Power accused Russia of “pulling a stunt” by calling an emergency meeting of the council.

Samantha Power’s opposite number, Vitaliy Churkin, said he had never seen “such an extraordinary display of American heavy-handedness” as shown by Power.

The Russians earlier said the current ceasefire in Syria was in danger of collapse and the US would be to blame.

The cessation of hostilities does not include attacks by the US on ISIS or other jihadist groups.

The US Central Command statement said the coalition believed it was attacking positions of so-called Islamic State and the raids were “halted immediately when coalition officials were informed by Russian officials that it was possible the personnel and vehicles targeted were part of the Syrian military”.

It said the “Combined Air Operations Center had earlier informed Russian counterparts of the upcoming strike”.

It added: “Syria is a complex situation with various military forces and militias in close proximity, but coalition forces would not intentionally strike a known Syrian military unit. The coalition will review this strike and the circumstances surrounding it to see if any lessons can be learned.”

Russia’s defense ministry earlier said that if the US air strikes did turn out to be an error, it would be because of Washington’s refusal to co-ordinate military action with Moscow.

Only if the current ceasefire – which began on September 12 – holds for seven days, will the US and Russia begin co-ordinated action against the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham group, which was previously known as the al-Nusra Front, and ISIS.

The Russian defense ministry quoted a statement by Syrian army general command as saying that the four coalition air strikes on Syrian troops had allowed ISIS to advance.

The Russian foreign ministry said the attack had jeopardized the US-Russia agreement on Syria.

The Syrian statement said that the air strikes were “conclusive evidence” that the US and its allies supported the jihadist group.

There have been no confirmed cases of US air strikes targeting Syrian troops.

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According to the Pentagon, a Russian SU-27 fighter jet flew within about 10ft of one of its reconnaissance aircraft operating over the Black Sea.

The US described the intercept by the Russian plane on September 7 as “dangerous and unprofessional”.

According to Russian defense ministry, said the US Navy P-8A Poseidon had been approaching Russian territory and the SU-27 pilots had adhered to international rules.

Russia is currently carrying out military exercises in the Black Sea.

Image source YouTube

Image source YouTube

Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said the US Navy aircraft had been conducting routine operations in international airspace when the Russian fighter made the unsafe maneuver.

“These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions, and could result in a miscalculation or accident,” he said.

A US defense official quoted by AFP news agency said the Russian plane had flown within 30ft of the P-8A before closing to just 10ft.

The Russian defense ministry said fighters intercepted the P-8A because it was heading towards Russian territory with its transponder signal – which helps others identify it – switched off.

Its statement said: “After the Russian fighters got close to the spy planes for visual confirmation and to determine their wing numbers, the American aircraft changed course sharply and flew away.

“The Russia pilots acted in strict accordance with international rules for flights.”

Relations between Russia and the West have been strained since the Russian annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014.

In April 2016, the US complained that Russian jets had confronted one of its reconnaissance planes over the Baltic Sea in an “unsafe and unprofessional manner”.

In that incident, Russia also said that the US Navy plane had turned off its transponder signal.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin as he and rival Hillary Clinton took pointed questions from military veterans.

Donald Trump told the forum Vladimir Putin “has been a leader far more than our president [Barack Obama] has been”.

It came on the same day the chief of the Pentagon accused Russia of sowing the seeds of global instability.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, defended her judgment despite her email scandal.

The White House candidates appeared back to back on stage in half-hour segments at the Intrepid Air and Sea Museum in New York on September 7.

Photo AP

Photo AP

Quizzed by NBC host Matt Lauer on his previous complimentary remarks about Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump responded: “He does have an 82% approval rating.”

“I think when he calls me brilliant I’ll take the compliment, ok?” added the Republican.

Donald Trump said Vladimir Putin had “great control over his country”.

He also predicted that if elected in November: “I think that I’ll be able to get along with him.”

Donald Trump recently drew sharp criticism when he urged Russia to dig up the emails that Hillary Clinton deleted from her email server.

It is not the first time Donald Trump has made admiring comments about the Russian leader.

Last December he said it was “a great honor” when Vladimir Putin called him “a talented person”.

Donald Trump’s latest remarks came hours after US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Russia “has clear ambition to erode the principled international order”.

In a speech at Oxford University, Ash Carter also appeared to allude to suspected Russian involvement in hacking of Democratic National Committee computers in the US.

On September 6, Donald Trump also courted controversy over s** abuse in the military.

He stood by a comment he made three years ago when he appeared to blame such assaults on the decision to allow women in the forces.

Hillary Clinton, who appeared first on stage by virtue of a coin toss, found herself once again on the defensive over her private email server.

A US naval flight officer told Hillary Clinton he would have been jailed if he had handled classified information as she had done.

Hillary Clinton replied: “I did exactly what I should have done and I take it very seriously. Always have, always will.”

She vowed to defeat ISIS, though she emphasized: “We are not putting ground troops into Iraq ever again.”

Hillary Clinton also said her 2002 Senate vote in favor of the Iraq War was “a mistake”.

But she said it meant she was in “the best possible position” to ensure it never happened again.

Hillary Clinton also pointed out that Donald Trump had once supported the invasion.

However, in his comments Donald Trump said: “I was totally against the war in Iraq.”

Matt Lauer came in for intense criticism after the debate for not pressing Donald Trump on the statement.

Unusually for a US presidential candidate, Donald Trump made unflattering remarks about America’s military leaders.

He said the generals had been “reduced to rubble” during President Barack Obama’s administration.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s forum offered a preview of the questions they will face in their three forthcoming presidential debates.

The first debate will be at Hofstra University near New York on September 26.

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Oil price has climbed by about 3% after Russia and Saudi Arabia reached an agreement to look for ways to stabilize the oil market.

The announcement was made by energy ministers Alexander Novak and Khalid al-Falih.

The price of Brent crude oil rose by $1.28 on the news to $48.11 a barrel.

A statement said the plan was to support the “stability of the oil market… ensuring a stable level of investment in the long term.”

The start of 2016 saw the price of oil fell to its lowest level in nearly 13 years due to a production glut and is still far below the $110 a barrel price recorded just two years ago.Oil prices fall below 28

Russian energy minister Alexander Novak said the agreement, which might include attempts to limit oil output, was a “historical moment” between members of OPEC, which is the traditional oil producers’ cartel, and non-members, of which Russia is one.

He said that Russia was willing to join an oil output “freeze”.

His Saudi counterpart Khalid al-Falih told Al Arabiya TV: “Freezing [production levels] is one of the preferred possibilities but it’s not necessary today.

“The market is getting better and we have noticed that prices reflect this [improvement].”

Strategies to keep prices high by limiting production are usually the preserve of OPEC and are often not successful.

However, Russia and Saudi Arabia are the world’s two largest oil producers.

Alexander Novak and Khalid al-Falih will meet again later this month and again in October and November.

The outline agreement, to set up a joint task force, was publicized at a news conference at the G20 summit taking place in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou.

The agreement to talk about a deal, despite the lack of detail, was welcomed by two other oil producers.

Kuwait’s acting oil minister Anas al-Saleh: “This dialogue confirms that the main oil producers are watching the oil market… to help achieve stability.”

UAE’s energy minister Suhail al-Mazroui tweeted: “UAE, as an active and responsible member of OPEC will always support any joint efforts which will benefit market stability.”

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Russia has announced the delivery of new air defense missiles to Crimea, in a move scheduled before the latest tension with Ukraine.

The S-400 Triumph missile systems were earmarked for troops in Crimea last month, Russian media said at the time.

In a statement on August 12, the Russian military said that once the systems were set up, they would be used in exercises.

Russia, which annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, said this week it had foiled a Ukraine sabotage mission.

The Kremlin accused Kiev of trying to send saboteurs into Crimea and reported the deaths of a soldier and a secret police officer in an operation to foil the alleged plot.

Denying the accusations, Ukraine placed its troops on alert along its de facto border with Crimea, and along its front line with Russian-backed rebels holding parts of Donetsk and Luhansk in the east.Crimea annexation 2014

A statement by Russia’s Southern Military District, which incorporates Crimea, said the missiles had been received by an air defense regiment in Crimea.

According to the statement, quoted by Russian news agencies, the missiles were successfully tested on the Kapustin Yar test range in southern Russia.

Russia’s Interfax news agency says t

The missiles are designed to hit airborne targets at a range of up to 249 miles and ballistic missiles at a range of up to 38 miles, flying at speeds of up to 3 miles per second.

The missiles are being installed in Crimea to protect Russia’s Hmeimim air base in Syria among other things, it adds.

In November 2015, Russia deployed S-400s at Hmeimim, after Turkey downed a Russian Su-24 bomber.

Ukraine’s envoy to the UN asked Russia on August 11 to prove its allegations, and said some 40,000 Russian troops were massed on the Crimea-Ukraine border.

His Russian counterpart told the UN Security Council of Moscow’s “concern and outrage” at the alleged incursions.

Russian state TV broadcast an apparent confession by a man named as Yevhen Panov, saying he was part of a Ukrainian defense ministry force sent into Crimea “to carry out acts of sabotage”.

Yevhen Panov said the group also included officers of Ukraine’s military intelligence.

Reports in Ukraine say Yevhen Panov is a former volunteer fighter who has more recently been associated with a charitable organization called Heroes of Ukraine.

Crimea was annexed by Russia after a majority of its mostly ethnic Russian population voted to secede in an unrecognized referendum on self-determination.

The annexation of Crimea was relatively bloodless, in sharp contrast to the ferocious fighting which followed in Donetsk and Luhansk.

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President Vladimir Putin has unexpectedly dismissed his chief of staff Sergei Ivanov, the Kremlin has announced.

Sergei Ivanov, 63, has been part of the Russian president’s trusted inner circle for many years.

He has now been made a special representative for environmental and transport issues.

A statement from the Kremlin said that President Putin had “decreed to relieve Ivanov of his duties as head of the Russian presidential administration”, but gave no reason.

Photo Russian Government

Photo Russian Government

Sergei Ivanov’s deputy since 2012, Anton Vaino, has been appointed as his successor.

Anton Vaino, 44, is a former diplomat. Born in the Estonian capital Tallinn in 1972, he graduated from the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) and served in the Tokyo embassy. Later he managed presidential protocol and government staff, the Kremlin website says.

On being appointed, Anton Vaino told Vladimir Putin: “Thank you for your trust. I think the administration’s most important task is to support your activity as head of state in terms of drafting laws and control over how your instructions are implemented.”

President Putin told a Russian TV station on August 12 that Sergei Ivanov had asked to leave the post, and recommended that Anton Vaino should replace him.

In remarks to Vladimir Putin, quoted on the Kremlin website, Sergei Ivanov said: “It’s true that in early 2012 I asked you, in a conversation, to entrust me with this very complicated post, even – you could say – troublesome post, for four years.

“Well, it turns out that I’ve been presidential chief of staff for four years and eight months.”

Sergei Ivanov took up the post in December 2011. He served previously as a deputy prime minister and defense minister.

He is a member of the Russian Security Council and a former member of the KGB state security service, like Vladimir Putin.

In the late 1990s, when Vladimir Putin was head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), which replaced the KGB, Sergei Ivanov was appointed as his deputy. When Vladimir Putin came to power, he named Sergei Ivanov as one of the five people he trusted most.

It was once thought that Sergei Ivanov might become president of Russia after Vladimir Putin’s second term, as a third term for Putin would have been unconstitutional.

However, that post was taken by another close Putin ally, Dmitry Medvedev.

Vladimir Putin became prime minister, before returning to the presidency just three-and-a-half years later.

A Russian military helicopter has been shot down by rebels in Idlib, northern Syria, killing five people on board, Russia has said.

The Mi-8 chopper was carrying three crew and two officers, Russia’s defense ministry said in a statement.

The aircraft was returning from delivering humanitarian aid to the besieged city of Aleppo, the statement added.

It is not clear which group brought the helicopter down.

An alliance of rebel groups, including hardline jihadist factions, is the dominant power in Idlib.

Russia has previously, though seldom, lost aircraft since it launched operations in support of the Syrian government at the end of September 2015.

Photo Flickr

Photo Flickr

In July 2016, two Russian pilots were killed when their helicopter was shot down east of Palmyra by ISIS.

In November 2015, the pilot of a Russian Su-24 fighter plane was killed when the aircraft was shot down by Turkey on its border with Syria.

A Russian marine sent on a mission to rescue the pilot was also killed when his helicopter was shot down.

Pictures on social media purportedly of the latest Russian helicopter downing showed burning wreckage and bodies, with armed men milling around.

Footage showed at least one body being dragged away.

Russia is a key backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and is supporting pro-government forces with air strikes on rebels.

Government forces cut off rebel-held eastern parts of Aleppo last month.

Russia and Syria announced the opening of what they called humanitarian corridors for civilians and rebels wanting to surrender, but few people are reported to have used them, fearing they would be targeted.

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Two US diplomats have been expelled from Moscow, after the White House said it had ordered two Russian embassy staff to leave Washington.

On July 8, the US State Department said their move came after a Russian policeman attacked a US diplomat near the US embassy in Moscow.

That US diplomat has now been expelled from Moscow, along with one other embassy worker.

The Kremlin accused the men of being CIA agents.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

Russian deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said both US embassy staff were expelled for “activities incompatible with their diplomatic status”.

State department spokesman John Kirby said the two Russian officials, who have not been named, were told to leave on June 17.

John Kirby said that earlier that month, a Russian policeman attacked a US diplomat near the US embassy in Moscow.

“The action was unprovoked and it endangered the safety of our employee,” he said.

“The Russian claim that the policeman was protecting the embassy from an unidentified individual is simply untrue.”

Russia said earlier this week that the US official was a CIA agent who had refused to provide his identification papers and hit the policeman in the face.

In June, US officials said harassment against US diplomats by Russian security and intelligence services was on the rise.

According to the Washington Post, that included breaking into the homes of embassy staff, rearranging furniture and even killing a family pet.

Russia has denied the allegation that security staff mistreated the US diplomat. It said the diplomat worked for the CIA and had refused to show ID papers.

Russian media have also released a footage showing what they say was the scuffle between the US diplomat and the Russian policeman.

In response to seeing its two diplomats ordered to leave Washington, the Kremlin announced its move on July 9.

“After their unfriendly step two employees of the United States embassy had to leave Moscow,” Sergei Ryabkov said.

“They were declared persona non grata for activities incompatible with their diplomatic status.”

No official response has been made by Russia to the allegations of harassment of US diplomats. A statement to the Washington Post said there had been US provocation against Russian diplomats.

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Relatives of victims of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 are suing Russia and its President Vladimir Putin in the European Court of Human Rights.

Flight MH17 was shot down by a Russian-made missile over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 on board.

The West and Ukraine say Russian-backed rebels were responsible while Russia accuses Ukrainian forces.

The claim is based on the violation of a passenger’s right to life, News.com.au reported.

Photo PA

Photo PA

It is for 10 million Australian dollars ($7.2 million) for each victim, and the lawsuit names both the Russian state and Vladimir Putin as respondents.

Jerry Skinner, a US-based aviation lawyer leading the case, told News.com.au it was difficult for the families to live with, knowing it was “a crime”.

He said: “The Russians don’t have any facts for blaming Ukraine, We have facts, photographs, memorandums, tons of stuff.”

They were waiting to hear from the ECHR whether the case had been accepted, Jerry Skinner said.

The Kremlin said it was unaware of the claim, the Interfax news agency reported, but a senator with Vladimir Putin’s party is quoted in state media as saying it was “legally nonsensical and has no chance”.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, there are 33 next-of-kin named in the application – eight from Australia, one from New Zealand with the rest from Malaysia.

Sydney-based law firm LHD Lawyers is filing the case on behalf of the victims’ families.

Flight MH17 crashed at the height of the conflict between Ukrainian government troops and pro-Russian separatists.

According to a Dutch report released in 2015, the plane was downed by a Russian-made Buk missile, but did not say who fired it.

Most of the victims were Dutch and a separate criminal investigation is still under way.